Did the Mexican state prove itself in the swine flu response?

Tyler Cowen looks for a silver lining for Mexico in the swine flu: Once the national government discovered what is going on, they acted decisively and without undue panic.  There has been very little denial, a common feature in the early stages of health crises (how long was it until the U.S. government acknowledged AIDS?).  ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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586172_090504_calderon2.jpg
Mexican President Felipe Calderon addresses the nation on the swine flu epidemic on April 29, 2009 in Mexico City. The World Health Organisation raised its flu alert to phase five, out of six, WHO chief Margaret Chan said, signalling that a pandemic was "imminent" following the swine flu outbreak. AFP PHOTO / Presidencia / Alfredo Guerrero (Photo credit should read ALFREDO GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)

Tyler Cowen looks for a silver lining for Mexico in the swine flu:

Once the national government discovered what is going on, they acted decisively and without undue panic.  There has been very little denial, a common feature in the early stages of health crises (how long was it until the U.S. government acknowledged AIDS?).  No one is treating the Mexican federal government like a banana republic or a basket case or thinking that the Canadian government would have done so much better.

Am I wrong?  Could this episode in the longer run bring Mexico closer to the community of developed nations?  Might Mexicans now be more likely to self-identify with a government that is at least partially competent?

Tyler Cowen looks for a silver lining for Mexico in the swine flu:

Once the national government discovered what is going on, they acted decisively and without undue panic.  There has been very little denial, a common feature in the early stages of health crises (how long was it until the U.S. government acknowledged AIDS?).  No one is treating the Mexican federal government like a banana republic or a basket case or thinking that the Canadian government would have done so much better.

Am I wrong?  Could this episode in the longer run bring Mexico closer to the community of developed nations?  Might Mexicans now be more likely to self-identify with a government that is at least partially competent?

Most Mexicans seem to agree. Over 70 percent give Felipe Calderon’s government high marks for its handling of the crisis. 

Thanks to Mexico’s raging drug violence, there’s been a growing meme in the U.S. media — including this magazine — that the country was teetering on the brink of anarchy. The Obama administration even chose an expert on state failure as its ambassador to the country. The Calderon administration’s decisive response to swine flu at least complicates this notion.

Compare, for instance, Mexico’s fast and seemingly effective handling of swine flu to China’s disastrous initial denial of the 2003 SARS outbreak and ask which one looks more like a failed state.  

Mexico’s problems haven’t gone away. This is still a country where 11,000 public servants have been sanctioned for corruption in the last three years and more people have been killed in drug violence than all the U.S. troops killed in Iraq. There are also new fears that Calderon will use the flu crisis to consolidate power. 

However, I think it’s safe to say that more than a few governments around the world would have collapsed or reverted to dictatorship given the horrendous few months that Mexico has had on the economic, crime, and public health fronts. Mexico, on the other hand, is gearing up for what promises to be a lively and close-fought midterm election.

It shouldn’t be shocking that stable and functioning states can sometimes respond to crises in ways that seem hopelessly inept (Just ask anyone in New Orleans) or that weak and corrupt ones can provide some public services quite well. Where Mexico falls on this spectrum is certainly open for debate, but the fundamental strength of the country’s political institutions are stronger than they’re often given credit for.

ALFREDO GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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